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Category — CREW

Beagle Sniffs out a Pregnancy Test for Polar Bears

Elvis the beagle sniffs polar bear fecal samples.

Elvis the beagle sniffs polar bear fecal samples.

Over the past two weeks, Elvis the pregnancy diagnosing beagle, has been hard at work smelling fecal samples (yes, fecal samples) collected from 17 female polar bears, including the Cincinnati Zoo’s own female, Berit. Currently, there is no definitive test for pregnancy in polar bears, so Elvis has been trained to identify samples that originated from pregnant females in an effort to predict which females are due to have cubs in a few weeks. Last week, Elvis demonstrated an impressive 100% accuracy on the known ‘test’ samples he had never smelled before, signaling appropriately on the pregnant samples while ignoring those that came from non-pregnant individuals.

Elvis the polar bear pregnancy detective.

Elvis the polar bear pregnancy detective.

We humans don’t yet know exactly what Elvis is smelling that enables him to identify the samples from pregnant bears. In his early training, he was exposed only to samples that came from pregnant bears. Over time, other samples, such as those from males and from juveniles were introduced, but he was only rewarded when he signaled on the pregnant samples. Eventually, samples from females in estrus and females known not to be pregnant were thrown in the mix. After months of training, Elvis has seemingly figured out what makes the samples from pregnant females different from all others.

A dog’s sense of smell is incredibly powerful- Elvis possesses around 225 million olfactory (smell) receptors in his nose, compared to just 5 million in a human’s.  Dogs also make better use of another olfactory organ, Jacobson’s organ, allowing them to detect pheromones which are other chemical communicators of physiology (and possibly pregnancy?). Additionally, the part of a dog’s brain dedicated to analyzing smells is 40 times greater than ours. As a result, a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than that of humans.

“If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well” said James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University.

Put another way, while we would probably notice if our coffee has a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth, according to Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher and author of Inside of a Dog.

Elvis_Infogram

Because their noses are so sensitive, precautions need to be taken so we don’t inadvertently compromise the results. Samples are double-bagged and stored separately to make sure scent cross-contamination doesn’t occur and the tubes that hold the samples on the training boards are thoroughly washed between samples- a time consuming process. Currently, Elvis is working through two-to-three samples, in replicates, from each of the 17 possibly pregnant bears to ensure his predictions are consistent for the same individual. Each institution will be notified of the results for its bears within the week.

So while it might sound like a terrible job to us, we joke that Elvis is the envy of his peers at Iron Heart High Performance Working Dogs. While the other detection-dogs-in-training are smelling bed bugs, explosives, drugs, or toxic mold, Elvis gets to smell poop and is even rewarded for it- isn’t that every dog’s dream?

In Kansas with Elvis and his training team.

In Kansas with Elvis and his training team.

November 8, 2013   No Comments

Waterdog Babies Hatch at CREW

This past summer, CREW‘s aquatic salamander lab welcomed baby waterdogs into the world.  Female waterdogs ‘Glitzy’ and ‘Muffintop’ both layed fertile eggs.  It has been exciting to witness and document the development of these very elusive animals.  It took quite some time before we could see the first evidence of the embryos forming and once they did, it was mesmerizing to watch them develop into full grown waterdog babies.  We were rooting for them all the way to hatching!

This photo shows an early time point in waterdog embryo development. You can see the bodies starting to form around the very large yolk sacs.  As you notice in the photo, waterdog babies lack pigment early in development.

Waterdog Babies

Waterdog Babies

As the babies progressed in their development, they became bigger and started to show evidence of pigmentation.  This video shows early movement in one of the waterdogs while it still resided within the sac.  Waterdog babies need to learn to maneuver while still in their sacs in order to be able to hatch themselves out.  And hatch themselves out, they did!

After hatching, the babies started to get their ‘groove on’ and learn how to move about.  This video was taken right after they successfully hatched and you can see how challenging it was for them to stay upright.  Having such a little body resting on a large yolk sac looks funny, but is totally normal for a waterdog baby.  The yolk sac is very important, as it provides the energy source for the developing babies.  They continue to obtain their nutrients from the yolk sac until they start hunting and eating on their own.

September 20, 2013   1 Comment

How Do You Differentiate Black, Indian and Sumatran Rhinos?

Guest blogger:  Crissi Lanier, Interpretive Media Intern

There are five species of rhinos in the world – Javan, Indian, Sumatran, Black & White. Three of these species, Indian, Black and Sumatran, reside here at the Cincinnati Zoo. Do you know how to identify them and where to find them? If not, read on and test your rhino knowledge on #WorldRhinoDay this Sunday, September 22.

Harapan at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Sumatran rhino Harapan at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Sumatran Rhino: Our sibling Sumatran rhinos, Harapan & Suci, have been in the news lately because they are the only two of their kind in North America and, as such, are key to the survival of this critically-endangered species.  They are in neighboring enclosures in Wildlife Canyon, where you can see them doing their favorite thing — getting muddy!

The Sumatran rhino’s most distinguishing feature is the reddish-brown hair that covers most of its body. It’s the smallest of all rhino species, standing about 4-feet high at the shoulder and weighs about 1,500–1,800 lbs. Like both African species, it has two horns.

To read more about the Sumatran Rhinos from past blogs click here.

Black rhino, Klyde.

Black rhino, Klyde.

Black Rhino: Our female black rhino, Seyia, is new to the Zoo and getting used to her surroundings in the Veldt.  She will make her public debut soon.  Her predecessor, Klyde, was transferred to the Sedgwick County Zoo for breeding a few months ago. Learn more about the crate training that made Klyde’s move smooth.

Although this rhino is referred to as black, its colors vary from brown to gray.  The black rhino is also referred to as the hook-lipped rhinoceros because of its prehensile upper lip.  It has two horns but can sometimes develop a third.

relaxing in water

Nikki in the water

Indian Rhino: We have two female Indian rhinos, Nikki and Manjula.  They are in separate enclosures in our Veldt, with Nikki often found lounging in her pool and Manjula making appearances when she feels like it!

The Indian rhino, also called the greater one-horned rhinoceros and Indian one-horned rhinoceros, has only one horn!  Nikki’s is a bit worn down because she likes to rub it on trees and rocks. This heavily built species can weigh up to 8,000 lbs and has thick, silver-brown skin, and very little body hair. Its upper legs and shoulders are covered in wart-like bumps.

Manjula, our largest rhino.

Manjula, our largest rhino.


*Sumatran rhinos are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  They are native to Sumatra (Indonesia), Borneo and Malay Peninsula.

*Black rhinos are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN.  They are found in various parts of central and southern Africa.

*Indian rhinos are considered Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  They are found in Nepal and India.

All of these rhinos need our help to survive for future generations.  You can  A.D.O.P.T. them to help aid in their daily care and enrichment, visit the Zoo on #WorldRhinoDay, talk to volunteers at the CREW stands about current research and more.

September 17, 2013   1 Comment